DeSoto • Glades • Hardee • Hendry • Highlands • Okeechobee
This region’s single institution of higher education made news in April 2022, as Aspen Institute named South Florida State College to its list of 25 semifinalists for the prestigious $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence awarded every two years. The 2023 winner will be announced in early spring 2023. South Florida State College has campuses in three South Central counties: Avon Park in Highlands County; Arcadia in DeSoto County; and Bowling Green in Hardee County; as well as its Lake Placid Center in Highlands County.
Blessed with an abundance of available land and sunshine, Florida’s South Central region has a long history of involvement with solar power. In 2009, the state’s largest utility — Florida Power & Light — elected to build its first solar power plant in Desoto County. At 25 MW and about 90,000 panels, DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy was not only the first facility of its kind in the U.S., it would help launch a wave of similar facilities across Desoto County, including FPL’s Citrus Solar Energy Center in 2016; its Wildflower and Cattle Ranch centers in 2018 and 2020 respectively; and a fifth facility — Rodeo Solar Energy Center in 2021.
Hendry and Okeechobee counties have also loomed large as solar energy sites in FPL’s goal to become this state’s largest generator of solar energy, adding Hammock Solar Energy Center in 2018 and the Blue Heron and Okeechobee Solar Energy Centers in 2020, to be followed in 2021 by a pair of Okeechobee sites — Fort Drum Solar Energy Center and Lakeside Solar Energy Center.
Not to be outdone, Florida’s other primary utility — Duke Energy Florida — has made good on its commitment to provide 700 megawatts of clean energy to Florida customers across 10 solar facilities between 2018 and 2022. Last of the 10 sites to complete the challenge was the Charlie Creek Solar Power Plant in Hardee County, which became capable of producing enough electricity to power approximately 23,000 homes at peak production annually beginning in summer 2022.
KEY PLAYERS: Florida Power & Light, Juno Beach; Duke Energy Florida, St. Petersburg
Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee has changed its name to HCA Florida Raulerson Hospital. The move comes as 12 HCA hospitals in Southeast Florida officially adopt new names and logos signaling their association with the statewide collaborative health care network known as HCA Florida Healthcare.
Serving more than 6.4 million patients annually, HCA Florida Healthcare connects 11,000 staff physicians, 49 hospitals and more than 350 physician practices to provide health care throughout the state.
Life & Leisure
Paradise Among the Stars
Looking for a slice of serenity during these trying times? Stargazing might be just the ticket. And you’re in luck because Kissimmee Prairie Preserve in South Central Florida offers up some of the best starry nights ever.
Located about 25 miles north of Okeechobee off U.S. 441, this gem of a place boasts 54,000 acres of wide open prairie almost 30 miles from the nearest town. It’s a popular place to hang out, so you won’t be alone, and there is a built-in catch — the park closes daily throughout the year at 6 p.m.
In order to enjoy the dazzling night sky at this state park, you must reserve a campsite well ahead of your visit and plan to arrive early on your designated day.